The first exhibit of library memorabilia sponsored by the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center this year is at the Reedsburg Public Library. It will remain there for the month of January. The exhibit focuses on the Wisconsin library legacy of Andrew Carnegie. This is very appropriate since Reedsburg's Carnegie library building is 100 years old this month. Although the public library now occupies a new building located across the street from the Carnegie building, the Carnegie is still used to house the library's archive collection. I was delighted to find that the library has preserved and framed the original plans for the Carnegie building which were approved by James Bertram of the Carnegie Corporation on March 11, 1911.
The "Andrew Carnegie's Wisconsin Library Legacy" exhibit will be on display at the Mead Public Library in Sheboygan for the month of November. This special exhibit which was created to help celebrate the 175th anniversary of Carnegie's birth was previously on display at the Middleton Public Library. It's nice to have the exhibit in Sheboygan which had its own Carnegie building (only the facade survives), and during the month when Carnegie was born (November 25).
For me attending a conference of the Wisconsin Association of Public Libraries (WAPL), a division of the Wisconsin Library Association (WLA) is like walking into a bar called Cheers. There are lots of longtime friends and "everybody knows your name". These days my name is mostly associated with library history, and that was why I was in Sheboygan, Wisconsin on Thursday and Friday of this week. At a conference with the theme “Anchoring the Past, Setting Sail for the Future”, I was there to help anchor the past with a program which I called “Turning Your Library’s History into a Public Relations Asset”. The conference was held at the Blue Harbor Resort, the anchor to a major harbor development, right on beautiful Lake Michigan. Dick Nelson, the conference program chair, had to twist my arm a little to get me to do the program. Not that I would actually pass up on an opportunity to promote library history, but when competing with five other programs in the same time slot I wasn't optimistic about the size of the audience I would be talking to. With past programs about library history I have sometimes ended up talking to a very small choir of like minded individuals. In this instance, that turned out not to be the case. The size of my audience was a respectable percentage of the 300 plus conference attendees.
In any case to hedge my bets and to ensure that the preparation for my presentation was not wasted, I had taken this opportunity to enhance the website of the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center (WLHC) by creating three new web pages. One of my responsibilities as Chair of the Steering Committee for the WLHC is maintaining the website. This also enabled me to avoid using technology onsite in my presentation (something I hate), and enabled the audience to avoid taking copious notes on my words of wisdom. This approach also allows those of you reading this post to benefit from the presentation without being there. Since a library has to have researched and compiled some form of a library history in order to turn it into a public relations asset, the first web page supporting my presentation deals with Researching and Writing a Library History. I want to acknowledge ALA's Library History Round Table, Bernadette Lear, and other members of the WLHC Steering Committee for much of the content on this web page. The second web page is about the core message of the program "Marketing Library History", and the final web page is focused on "Celebrating Anniversaries".
Attending the WAPL Conference was a great opportunity to talk to old and new friends. The reception on Thursday night at the Mead Public Library was a wonderful event. The library's outstanding facility includes many interesting spaces and artifacts. Among them is a portrait of Andrew Carnegie from their old Carnegie facility (shown on the postcard above). I'm hoping to take advantage of some of their display cases for an exhibit later in the year. While in Sheboygan I also picked up a vintage public library book box which WAPL Conference Chair David Weinhold had assisted me in obtaining via Craigslist. On the way home I swung up to Menasha to pick up a library history exhibit featuring the Tabard Inn Library, the Booklovers Library, and Wisconsin Library Memorabilia. All in all a great couple of days for a library history buff.
The public library in Eau Claire (now named the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library) has benefited from the generosity of several benefactors over the years. An online history of the early years of the public library can be found HERE. In 1894 the library was given rent free space in the new Ingram Building by lumberman Orin H. Ingram. The Ingram Building is shown in the first postcard above. In 1902 a grant of $40,000 was obtained from Andrew Carnegie for a new library building and the grand opening of the building was held on April 21, 1904, just over 106 years ago. A copy of the letter requesting the grant from Andrew Carnegie is located HERE. The second postcard shows the exterior of the Carnegie building and the third postcard shows the interior.
Plymouth Public Library. The Carnegie building is preserved in its entirety with a major 1988 addition at the rear of the building. The City of Plymouth received its $10,000 Carnegie grant in 1908, but the building was not completed until 1915. The addition was added to the building in 1988. The main entrance to the expanded building is located at 130 Division Street but the Carnegie building faces E. North Main Street. The Wisconsin Historical Society has determined that the building is eligible to be added to the National Register of Historic Places. There is a Wisconsin Architecture and History Inventory (AHI) record for the building. Search under Sheboygan County for Plymouth Public Library. The building is listed on the Wisconsin Library Heritage Trail.
Two communities in Sheboygan County received grants from Andrew Carnegie for public library buildings. Unlike the City of Sheboygan, the City of Plymouth chose to preserve and incorporate its Carnegie building into a new expanded
Of the 63 public library buildings and two academic library buildings built with assistance from Andrew Carnegie in Wisconsin, fourteen have been razed. The buildings were located in the following communities: Appleton (Lawrence University), Beloit, Chippewa Falls, Fond du Lac, Madison (Central Library), Manitowoc, Neenah, Rice Lake, Richland Center, Sheboygan, South Milwaukee, Stevens Point, Wausau, and Wauwatosa. When the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan razed the Carnegie building for a garden, it kept part of the building's facade which is shown to the left. When Chippewa Falls razed its Carnegie building, it preserved the columns that were in front of the building. These columns now adorn the front of a furniture store. The Carnegie building in Superior has stood vacant for many years and is at risk.
The Wisconsin Library Memorabilia exhibit will be on display at the Door County Library in Sturgeon Bay for September and most of October. Displaying the exhibit in libraries around the state is a project of the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center. The exhibit is curated by Larry Nix, Chair of the WLHC Steering Committee. The display cases at the Sturgeon Bay library are conveniently located immediately adjacent to the entrance and right in front of the computer lab. Sturgeon Bay is one of sixty communities in Wisconsin that received a grant from Andrew Carnegie for a new library building. The Carnegie building in Sturgeon Bay, which is one block north of the current library, is shown below. The building which is covered with ivy serves as the office building for an accounting firm. For more information about the exhibit click here.
I previously wrote a post on Carnegie library buildings that have been converted to bed and breakfasts. The Library Hall Bed and Breakfast in Ladysmith, Wisconsin is one of only two such arrangements that I am aware of in the United States. The other is in Sterling, Colorado. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Ladysmith and see the Library Hall Bed and Breakfast and have included some photos above.
Any library building that is older than fifty years is considered to be historic. Some historic library buildings continue to serve as libraries usually with additions. Others are razed so the lot they stand on can be used for a new library or for another use. Still others survive as buildings but are used for other purposes. One of the more positive alternative purposes for these buildings is to serve as a local history museum. Historical societies realize the importance of preserving historic buildings and they make them accessible to the public. There are several of these in Wisconsin. The Carnegie library building in Darlington which is pictured on the envelope above now serves as the home of the Lafayette County Historical Society Museum. The Antigo Carnegie library building shown on the postcard below serves as the home to the Langlade Historical Society. Other historic library buildings occupied by museums that I am aware of include those in Beaver Dam, Racine, Waupaca, Waupun, and Wisconsin Rapids. A down side to these buildings is that they are often not fully accessible to those with disabilities.
According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, on this day in 1903 construction began on the Janesville Public Library. Andrew Carnegie had approved a grant of $30,000 on March 1, 1901 to assist with the contruction of the library. It was one of seven communities in Wisconsin to receive Carnegie grants in that same year. In addition to the grant from Carnegie, F. S. Eldred donated $10,000 for the Janesville library's children's room. The Carnegie library building in Janesville is still in existence and has has been converted to a senior center.
Volume I of the History of Winnegago County Wisconsin by Publius V. Lawson (C. F. Cooper & Co., Chicago, 1908, page 474) recounts the story of how Neenah, Wisconsin got its Carnegie Library.
"Robert Shiells [former president of Neenah's subscription library] still kept up his interest in the work [of the library] and one day in 1904 wrote a letter to Andrew Carnegie suggesting that he furnish the funds for a library building in Neenah. The reply was that a town with so much wealth could well build their own building. Mr. Shiells replied, they were building public improvements, schools and churches, and therefore could with good grace call on Mr. Carnegie to furnish the library. But he still refused. There lives in Washington Mr. William R. Smith, the landscape gardener at the White House for the last fifty-five years. He is a great student of Robert Burns, and of course a Scotchman. He had gathered together a duplicate of the library used by Burns, many of them the very books used by Burns, and as near as possible the same editions. Mr. Andrew Carnegie is a great friend of Mr. Smith, and spends many days each year at his home in Washington. During this correspondence he was at the home of Mr. Smith, and asked him if he knew of a Scotchman out at Neenah, Wisconsin, named Robert Shiells. He said he did not know him personally, but was well acquainted with him by his writing, and thought a great deal of him, and if he ever went west he promised himself to call on Mr. Shiells. Then Mr. Carnegie told of the correspondence. Mr. Smith said, 'Why, Andy, you made a mistake; give Mr. Shiells his library.' Then Mr. Carnegie replied, 'All right, Smith, I will do it.' One day soon after, a little to his surprise, the letter came to Mr. Shiells offering the city $10,000, provided they would support it with $1,000 per annum. The offer was accepted. The citizens raised $15,000 in addition, of which Theda Clark gave $5,000 and the site where it is at present located. It cost nearly $30,000."
The Carnegie building was razed to make way for the current Neenah Public Library building. The Friends of the Neenah Library are a Founding Contributor of the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center for which we are grateful.
T. B. Scott, for whom the T. B. Scott Free Library in Merrill is named, willed the City of Merrill $10,000 in 1886 to found a free public library. In a special election in 1889, 120 years ago, residents voted to establish the public library. In 1909, 100 years ago, Merrill received a grant of $17,500 from Andrew Carnegie for a new library building. The building which was designed by the architectural firm of Claude & Starck opened in 1911. An extensive expansion and rennovation of the building was completed in 2001. The library has a detailed outline of its history on its website, something we recommend for every library. If you look at the history, you will note that the library has benefited from the leadership of some outstanding Wisconsin librarians. We especially like the fact that a link to the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center website has been placed on their library history page. We are also grateful that the T. B. Scott Free Library is a Founding Contributor to the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center.
The Wisconsin Library Memorabilia exhibit is on display in the months of February and March at the South Milwaukee Public Library as part of their 110th anniversary celebration. South Milwaukee received a $15,000 grant on September 29, 1915 from Andrew Carnegie for a new public library building. That building was razed in 1965. It was one of 63 public library buildings in Wisconsin that were built with assistance from Carnegie.
A Real Photo Postcard (RPPC) view of the razed South Milwaukee Public Library Carnegie Building.
Finding alternative uses for Carnegie library buildings that have been vacated for newer and more functional facilities can be a challenge. The old Carnegie library in Ladysmith, Wisconsin was transformed into a very unusual alternative purpose. It is now the Carnegie Hall Bed & Breakfast. In a Google search, I was only able to find a couple of similar uses in the nation. The Carnegie library building in Sterling, Colorado is now the Old Library Inn. The Carnegie library building in Olean, New york is now the Old Library Restaurant in conjunctin with a bed and breakfast. Why not spend a night with Carnegie on your next vacation.
The postcard on the masthead for the WLHC website shows the building which Andrew Carnegie helped fund for Superior, Wisconsin. Beth Carpenter, the designer of the WLHC website, picked the postcard for the masthead, but I heartedly approve. I like it because it shows people around the library and a very neat vintage automobile that helps date the card. Unfortunately, the building is at risk. When the City of Superior was set to raze the building, a group of individuals banded together and were able to save the building at least temporarily. But to date they have been unable to find a permanent use for the building. For more on the Superior Carnegie building click here.
The situation in Hayward, WI differs dramatically from the one in Superior. When the Hayward Public Library moved to a new building, the old Carnegie building was bought by a retailer that has done a fine job of restoring and preserving the building. A contributing factor to this more favorable outcome was the ideal location of the Carnegie building in a popular commercial district for tourists. If you're in the Hayward area check it out.